DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: AMINO ACIDS

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A few days ago I was doing some web research for a new food of the day post for Dates. Unfortunately, this all got delayed because I got locked out of my apartment for a week. Although I stopped working on the original post what stuck out to me was this portion regarding the items amino acid profile. I was shocked to see how many amino acids it contained. This got me to thinking more about Amino Acids in general and has led to this behemoth post.
Sometimes I read packaging or stories about how some food has essential amino acids or this is a “complete protein” but, when has anyone ever really explained what they hell they do for the body or even what their names are? The reason no one goes into details is that amino acids research was like falling down the rabbit hole into scientific minutia and jargon that it took several dictionaries to even comprehend…and even now I am not totally sure I have all of them down pat.

Let’s start with the basics. Amino Acids are the “building blocks” of the body that make up proteins. A protein molecule is a long chain of amino acids linked by peptide bonds. Many different proteins are found in the cells of all living things, but they are all made up of the same 20 (22 depending on who you asked) amino acids, joined together in varying combinations. Each protein has a unique, genetically defined amino-acid sequence, which determines its specific shape and function. In other words think of Amino Acids like lego blocks. Now designate each lego block, all 20/22 of them, with a unique color. Now link them together in different specific sequences and you have an idea of how amino acids form proteins. Why do we need amino acids/protein? How are they used in the body?

When proteins are digested, amino acids are left. The human body requires a number of amino acids to grow and breakdown food. They serve as enzymes, structural elements, hormones, immunoglobulins (say that ten times fast), etc. and are involved in oxygen transport, muscle contraction, electron transport, controlling the metabolism of cells, controlling the structure and movement of cells, etc. Proteins make up the muscles, tendons, organs, glands, nails, and hair in our body. Growth, repair and maintenance of all cells are dependent upon them. Next to water, protein makes up the greatest portion of our body weight. So yeah…they don’t call them building blocks for nothing folks!

Amino acids are broken down into “Essential” and “Non Essential” groupings. However, this is extremely misleading categorization of them. ALL are essential to proper health and nutrition. However, the Essential Amino Acids are ones that the body can not create on its own and thus can ONLY be obtained from our diet. The Non Essential ones are things the body can manufacture however, are also abundant in foods and equally important to optimal health. To further confuse matters, some separated amino acids into combo groups the most notably is BCAA or the essential branched chain amino acids. The branch chain amino acids are three of the essential amino acids. The name refers to the branch-like structure of Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, which are essential to the human body and most notably supplemented by body builders to create “lean body mass”. More on all this later.

Okay now that we know what they do for you and how they work…let’s introduce these 20/22 amino acids. Dunt dunt dunda dun….ROLL CALL!

Essential
Isoleucine
Leucine
Lysine
Methionine
Phenylalanine
Threonine
Valine
Tryptophan
Selenocysteine
Histidine

Nonessential
Alanine
Asparagine
Aspartic acid
Arginine
Cysteine
Glutamine
Glycine
Glutamic acid
Isoleucine
Serine
Proline
Tyrosine

*Some sites consider it essential and others nonessential

ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

Isoleucine
Isoleucine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA).It will increase endurance, helps heal/repair muscle tissue, encourages clotting at the site of injury, and helps regulate blood sugar. It is especially important to serious athletes and body builders because its primary function in the body is to boost energy and help the body recover from strenuous physical activity. It helps promote muscle recovery after exercise.
?Food sources of isoleucine include high-protein foods, such as nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, fish, lentils, peas, spirulina, and soy protein. As it is a part of a group try to also eat with foods that contain leucine and valine.
?People with impaired liver or kidney function should not take isoleucine without first consulting a physician, as large doses of amino acids may aggravate these conditions.

Leucine
Leucine works to repair muscles, regulate blood sugar, provides the body with energy, increases production of growth hormones, and helps burn visceral fat, which is located in the deepest layers of the body and the least responsive to dieting and exercise, and promotes the healing of bones, skin, and muscle tissue after traumatic injury, and is often recommended for those recovering from surgery. ??Leucine is the most effective BCAA for preventing muscle loss because it breaks down and is converted to glucose more quickly than isoleucine and valine. Increased glucose supplies prevent the body’s cannibalization of muscle for energy during intense workouts, so it is no surprise that this amino acid supplement is popular among professional body builders.
Because it is so easily converted to glucose, leucine helps to regulate blood sugar; a deficiency of leucine produces symptoms similar to those of hypoglycemia, which may include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, depression, confusion, and irritability. ??Food sources of leucine include brown rice, beans, beef, peanuts, salmon, shrimp, chicken, almonds, egg yolks, chickpeas, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, asparagus, soy, pork, lentils and whole wheat.
?An excessively high intake of leucine has also been linked to the development of pellagra, a deficiency of the niacin that causes dermatitis, diarrhea, and mental disorders. Too much leucine in the diet can disrupt liver and kidney function and increase the amount of ammonia in the body. People with impaired liver or kidney function should not take isoleucine without first consulting a physician, as large doses of it may aggravate these conditions.

Lysine
Lysine is well known for its antiviral properties, it helps prevent outbreaks of herpes and cold sores, is needed for hormone production and the growth and maintenance of bones in both children and adults, promotes the formation of both collagen and muscle protein, and may help speed recovery from surgery and sports injuries as well.

Good sources of lysine include cheese, eggs, fish (tuna, perch, haddock, roughy, etc), shrimp, crab, bison, chicken, turkey, lima beans, milk, potatoes, spirulina, parsley, pears, apricots, banana, apples, pumpkin, cauliflower, cashews, brazil nuts, almonds, celery, soy products, and yeast. ??Most people get enough lysine from their diet, but there have been recorded cases of lysine deficiency, particularly in those that have a low-protein diet or eating disorder. A lysine deficiency may include symptoms of bloodshot eyes, hair loss, an inability to concentrate, irritability, lack of energy, poor appetite, reproductive disorders, retarded growth, and weight loss. ?
Methionine
Methionine helps the body process and eliminate fat, helps eliminate toxins, promotes liver health, builds strong healthy tissue, promotes cardiovascular health, is essential for the formation of healthy collagen used to form skin, nails, and connective tissue, and helps reduce the level of inflammatory histamines in the body.
?A form of methionine supplement called SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) is widely available.. Research has shown that SAMe is effective for treatment of arthritis and some forms of depression. The average dose is 400 milligrams three times daily, and it works best when taken with a B-complex vitamin.
?Food sources: beans, eggs, fish, garlic, lentils, meat, onions, soybeans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, spirulina, and yogurt. It is also available at health food stores and from online distributors in capsule and powder forms. ??It is important to note that excessive methionine intake, together with inadequate intake of B9/folic acid, B6, and B12 can increase the conversion of methionine to homocysteine—a substance linked to cardiovascular disease. However, supplementation of up to 2 grams of methionine daily for long periods of time has not been reported to cause any serious side effects.

Phenylalanine
Phenylalanine is needed for normal functioning of the central nervous system, helps control symptoms of depression and chronic pain, as well as other diseases linked to a malfunctioning central nervous system, it helps make epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine, three neurotransmitters that basically control the way you perceive and interact with your environment, it helps you feel happier, less hungry and more alert; it has also to treat chronic pain and improve memory and concentration.
?There are three different kinds of phenylalanine: L-phenylalanine, D-phenylalanine, and DL-phenylalanine. Each type of phenylalanine is used to treat different symptoms. D-phenylalanine is more effective for controlling pain, while L-phenylalanine is more effective for regulating mood, appetite, and mental alertness; DL-phenylalanine affects both pain sensitivity and mental state.

Food Sources: black beans, almonds, chicken, cottage cheese and other dairy products, eggs, fish, lima beans, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, soy products, watercress, poultry, red meat, and seafood.
?Anyone with high blood pressure or migraines should not take phenylalanine or even eat foods high in this amino acid, as it may aggravate their condition. People with a condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU), in which phenylalanine cannot be broken down, should not take phenylalanine supplements or eat foods containing large amounts of this amino acid. Do not take phenylalanine supplements in conjunction with prescription antidepressants, particularly monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, as this may lead to life-threatening spikes in blood pressure. Large doses of phenylalanine may cause nerve damage.

Threonine
Threonine promotes normal growth by helping to maintain the proper protein balance in the body, supports cardiovascular, liver, central nervous, and immune system function,?needed to create glycine and serine, two other amino acids that are necessary for the production of collagen, elastin, and muscle tissue, helps keep connective tissues and muscles throughout the body strong and elastic, including the heart, where it is found in significant amounts, helps build strong bones and tooth enamel, and may speed wound healing or recovery from injury. ??Threonine combines with the amino acids aspartic acid and methione to help the liver digest fats and fatty acids. Without enough threonine in the body, fats could build up in the liver and ultimately cause liver failure. ??Food Sources: Dairy, meat, fish and seafood, poultry, peanuts, sesame seeds, lentils, spirulina, seaweed, peas, squash, taro, turnips, flaxseeds, walnuts, asparagus, grains, mushrooms, and leafy vegetables all contain threonine, so threonine deficiency is not likely if you have a balanced diet. However, strict vegetarians or vegans may want to consider threonine supplementation, since meat is by far the more superior source of this amino acid—the threonine content of grains is very low.

Valine
Valine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) that promotes normal growth, repair tissues, regulate blood sugar, and provide the body with energy, helps stimulate the central nervous system, is needed for proper mental functioning, helps prevent the breakdown of muscle by supplying them with extra glucose for energy production during intense physical activity, helps remove potentially toxic excess nitrogen from the liver, and is able to transport nitrogen to other tissues in the body as needed.
?Food sources: meats, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, spirulina, game meats, seafood, lamb, watercress, mushrooms, peanuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cottonseed flour, parsley, and soy protein.

Tryptophan
Tryptophan is probably the most well known amino acid for its role in the production of nervous system messengers, especially those related to relaxation, restfulness, and sleep.

Tryptophan has two important functions. First, a small amount of the tryptophan we get in our diet (about 3%) is converted into B3/Niacin by the liver. This conversion can help prevent the symptoms associated with niacin deficiency when dietary intake of this vitamin is low. Second, tryptophan serves as a precursor for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps the body regulate appetite, sleep patterns, and mood. Because of its ability to raise serotonin levels, tryptophan has been used therapeutically in the treatment of a variety of conditions, most notably insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Vitamins B6, Vitamin C, Folic Acid, and magnesium are necessary for the metabolization of tryptophan. In addition, tyrosine and phenylalanine compete with tryptophan for absorption.

Food Sources: tuna, shrimp, turkey, cod, snapper, venison, halibut, salmon, scallops, chicken, lamb, beef, calf’s liver, spinach, mustard greens, tofu/soy, crimini mushrooms, soybeans, and mozarrella, eggs, dairy, collard greens, cauliflower, lentils, split peas, garbanzo beans, black beans and other legumes.

Selenocysteine
Some defined Selenocysteine as an essential amino acid and others don’t. I will err on the inclusive side and place it on the essential amino acid list.

Selenocysteine is the protein, or food form, of the antioxidant selenium, and it is used in almost every cell process in the body. It protects cells from free-radical damage, enables your thyroid to produce thyroid hormone, helps lower your risk of joint inflammation, believed to protect against mercury toxicity, and people with low levels of selenium in their body may be more prone to poor liver function, low muscle mass, premature aging, and even heart disease.

Selenium is indirectly responsible for keeping the body’s supply of at least three other nutrients intact: these three other nutrients are vitamin C, Vitamin E and glutathione.

It is important to note that the selenium content of food is highly variable because it depends so heavily on soil conditions. In fact, some researchers have concluded that it is not possible to create a valid list of foods and their selenium content for this very reason. While soil conditions affect plant foods most directly, they also affect animal foods, since most animals depend upon plants for their diet.

Grown or raised under ideal soil conditions good food sources: button mushroom, shiitake and crimini mushrooms, cod, shrimp, snapper, tuna, halibut, calf’s liver, salmon, eggs, lamb, barley, sunflower seeds, turkey, mustard seeds, sardines, brown rice, rye, tofu, blackstrap molasses, asparagus, spinach and oats.

Histidine
Histidine helps develop and maintain healthy tissues in all parts of the body especially nervous system, helps maintain mental and sexual health, needed to create red and white blood cells, helps maintain healthy blood pressure, helps with digestion, and helps detox liver and remove heavy metals. ??Food Sources: meat, soy, fish, dairy products, adzuki bean, wheat germ, buck wheat, rye, edamame, broad beans, green peas, bean sprouts, broccoli, bamboo, cabbage, kombu seaweed, nuts and seeds, rice, wheat, and rye

NON ESSENTIAL

Alanine
Alanine, or L-alanine, is an amino acid that helps the body convert glucose into energy, eliminates excess toxins from the liver, helps protect cells from being damaged during intense aerobic activity, is crucial for preserving balanced levels of nitrogen and glucose in the body, prostate health, and maintains energy. Alanine is necessary to process the B vitamins, especially B5 and B6.
?Good sources of alanine are meat, poultry, brewer’s yeast, whey, seeds, beans, brown rice, eggs, dairy products, and fish, gelatin, avocado, pork skins, spirulina, soy, seaweed, turkey, whole grains, legumes.

Aspartic Acid
Aspartic acid/ L-aspartate helps promote healthy metabolism, helps fight fatigue, is vital to enzyme production and transportation, helps transport minerals needed to form healthy RNA and DNA to the cells, and strengthens the immune system, supports brain functions, and removes excess toxins from the cells, particularly ammonia, which is very damaging to the brain and nervous system as well as the liver. ??Food source dairy, beef, poultry, seafood, sugar cane, spirulina, seeds, soy, legumes, green and red peppers, ancho peppers, asparagus, and sprouts.

N- Acetylcysteine
N- acetylcysteine/cysteine supports immune system, healthy nails and hair, helps maintain a healthy, youthful appearance by encouraging collagen production and skin elasticity, helps prevent heavy metal poisoning, smoker’s cough, bronchitis, heart disease, cystic fibrosis, acetaminophen poisoning, and septic shock. Its detoxifying effects may also help enhance the benefits of regular exercise by protecting the body from oxidative stress.??Some studies have shown that acetylcysteine can help protect the lungs from carcinogens found in tobacco smoke, protect the liver against the toxic effects of alcohol, and reduce toxic side effects of some drugs used to treat cancer. NAC has been used successfully to treat arsenic and mercury poisoning. Cysteine also has the ability to breakdown mucous that settles in the lung which makes useful in the treatment of bronchitis and other respiratory problems.
Food such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, wheat, oats and other whole grains, broccoli, garlic, onions, legumes, nuts, seeds, brussel sprouts, yogurt, wheat germ and red peppers.

Glutamic Acid
Glutamic acid, also called glutamate, is a neurotransmitter that increases the firing of neurons in the central nervous system and is converted into either glutamine or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), two other amino acids that help pass messages to the brain. It is a byproduct of folate/B9. It is important in the metabolism of sugars and fats, and aids in the transportation of potassium into the spinal fluid and across blood-brain barrier, helps to correct personality disorders and is useful in treating childhood behavioral disorders. It is used in the treatment of epilepsy, mental retardation, muscular dystrophy, ulcers, and hypoglycemic coma, a complication of insulin treatment for diabetes.
Food Soucres: MSG, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, soy, legumes, hemp seeds, chia seeds, raw cabbage, beets, miso, spinach, parsley, nuts and kombu.

Glutamine
Glutamine helps build and maintain the muscles, helps remove toxic ammonia from the liver, helps maintain a healthy central nervous system, promotes a healthy digestive tract by helping to balance acid/alkaline levels in the body, protects the liver from the effects of alcohol and acetaminophen overdose, promotes normal cell division and is key to the development of DNA and RNA, and supports immune system.
?Glutamine is found in many foods, but it is easily destroyed by cooking. Raw spinach, raw parsley, beef, poultry, dairy, soy, legumes, beets, and cabbage.

Glycine
Glycine helps create muscle tissue, converts glucose into energy, helps construct normal DNA and RNA, keeps skin healthy and youthful, and helps regulates blood sugar levels.
?Food Sources: gelatin, poultry, fish, spirulina, seeds, nuts, soy, meat especially pork, beans, milk, and cheese, are the best dietary sources of glycine.

Proline
Proline is vital in the production of collagen and cartilage, keeps muscles and joints flexible, helps reduce sagging and wrinkling that accompany UV exposure and normal aging of the skin, helps the body break down proteins,
?Food Sources: Gelatin, meat especially pork, dairy, soy, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, spirulina, fish, and eggs.

Serine
Serine is derived from the amino acid glycine and is important to overall good health, both physical and mental especially important to proper functioning of the brain and central nervous system, involved in the healthy RNA and DNA function, fat and fatty acid metabolism, muscle formation, and promotes healthy immune system. B3, B6, B9/folic acid are necessary to produce serine.
Food Sources: poultry, fish, meat, soy foods, chickpeas, almonds, flax seeds, seame seeds/tahini, dairy products, wheat gluten, asparagus, and peanuts.

Tyrosine
Tyrosine helps regulate mood and stimulates the nervous system, helps speed up the metabolism, used to treat conditions characterized by chronic fatigue, makes many important brain chemicals that help regulate appetite, pain sensitivity, and the body’s response to stress, also needed for normal functioning of the thyroid, pituitary, and adrenal glands—low levels of tyrosine may lead to hypothyroidism, low blood pressure, chronic fatigue, and sluggish metabolism. ??Tyrosine and phenylalanine make epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine, three neurotransmitters that basically control the way you perceive and interact with your environment. Without adequate amounts of phenylalanine, the body can’t manufacture it’s own supply of tyrosine; without adequate amounts of tyrosine, the body cannot metabolize phenylalanine. A shortage of either of these could leave you vulnerable to a host of mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, low libido, and chronic fatigue.
?Food Sources: spirulina, soy, turkey, wild game especially duck, spinach, fish, mustard greens, fish roe, meat, fish, poultry, whole grains, wheat, oats, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, beans, legumes, almonds, avocados, bananas, dairy foods, beans, and seeds.

Arginine
Arginine, or L-arginine, keep the liver, skin, joints, and muscles healthy, helps strengthen the body’s immune system, regulates hormones and blood sugar, and promotes male fertility. In addition, may improve circulation and treat impotence and heart disease. New borns are not able to make their own supply of this substance, so arginine is considered essential in the first months of life, which is yet another great reason for new moms to eat well and breast feed.
?Food Sources: brazil nuts, carob, chocolate, lentils, flax seeds, coconut, dairy products, gelatin, meat, oats, peanuts, soybeans, walnuts, white flour, wheat, sesame seeds, crab and other seafood, spirulina, spinach, winter squash and wheat germ.

Ornithine
Ornithine helps build muscle, keeps liver healthy, and reduce body fat, especially when combined with the amino acids arginine and carnitine.

Food Sources: meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, and eggs.

Taurine
Taurine comes from the aminos methionine and cysteine. It helps regulate the nervous system and the muscles, and plays an important part in keeping the brain and heart healthy, helps body metabolism of fats, helps maintain healthy cholesterol, seaweed, and is a key component of bile.
?Food Sources: eggs, fish, meat, poultry, seaweed and milk.

OKAY ARE YOU STILL THERE! Wow that was a long list! As tedious as that may seem…I think it is important to know WHY we need protein and amino acids. What we eat really does effect every single aspect of our existence. If we eat properly we can save ourselves a whole host of trouble.

Last thought….many of these items are available in supplement form BUT it is always a much better idea to eat whole foods. And as always contact your doctors regarding your particular medical conditions and before making major changes to your diet.

See ya’ll later!

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